Help! My School Mandates New Classroom Themes Every Two Years

Should I really have to change my theme every two years?

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I am struggling to keep between work and home life—mentally, physically and financially. Our school requires us to change our classroom theme every two years, which is not only expensive but very time-consuming. My teammates are going above and beyond with decorations, class rewards, and more. Although I really enjoy my team as people, I do not want to spend so much of my own money on my classroom, going in early and on weekends, or staying late to do extra things to make my classroom Instagram worthy. I love teaching, AND I also love my family. How do I find balance? —The Juggle is a Struggle

Dear T.J.I.A.S.,

You are not alone in your struggle to find balance in life! Please don’t feel guilty for having boundaries. It takes emotional resilience to manage the demands of being a teacher. Getting ready for a new school year is a heavy lift for sure. Often, we neglect ourselves in order to “do it all.” So, be sure to ask yourself, how are you taking care of yourself? What kinds of things make you feel recharged? How do you relax? Are your actions connected to your core values? Build solid self-care routines into your life. Remember, your boundaries are integral to building a greater sense of well-being and rewarding teaching life.

I bet there are other teachers at your site who feel the same way you do about spending their own money, time and energy to change classroom themes so frequently. Most people would agree that your district or site should provide a budget if they require such a thing. A recent survey revealed that Pre-K-12 teachers spend an average of $745 of their OWN money on classroom resources EVERY YEAR.

As you set up your classroom for the upcoming year, consider giving your students and families opportunities to be more involved in co-creating the classroom environment. Some teachers find great benefits in starting the year with a bare classroom. If you choose to experiment with this approach, it’s helpful to hang a message on the door stating that the walls are bare for a reason. Explain that your intention is to create a shared space together, where the children feel a greater sense of ownership. Teacher Matthew Halpern tells his students, “I’ve been waiting for you. Let’s create our space together.” So, your theme this year could be Welcome to OUR Space. No matter what you choose to do, let your classroom evolve over time and come alive with your students’ self-expression to promote voice, creativity, and ownership.

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I’m pregnant, and this is my first baby. It’s obvious that I’m expecting, and I know I can’t wait any longer to tell my principal. I’m transferring to this new school within the same district, and I don’t have strong relationships with the staff yet. Maybe I made a mistake leaving a place where everyone already knew me and supported me.  I feel like this is a wobbly way to start my new position. Any advice on how to go about it? —Mama to Be

Dear M.T.B.,

Congratulations on your pregnancy and the beginning of motherhood! In Anne Lamott’s book, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, she writes, “…there really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child.” I hope you are taking good care of yourself as you embark on one of the most important journeys of your life. Please know that you can be an effective, responsive teacher AND parent.

You haven’t done anything wrong! Be unapologetically proactive and communicative with your new principal. It’s best to set up a time ASAP to meet with your principal so your team can support you and the search for a visiting teacher can begin. You might say or email, “I’m excited to share my special news that I’m expecting a baby this year. When would be a good time to talk about creating a smooth transition?” During your meeting, express your intention to do your best for the students and their families. You might want to ask your principal if the visiting teacher can overlap a day with you and the kids to facilitate the transition process.

If, for some reason, you do need extra support due to your pregnancy, speak up! Thankfully, pregnant women have protection under federal law. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states, “You are protected against pregnancy-based discrimination and harassment at work. You may also have a legal right to work adjustments that will allow you to do your job without jeopardizing your health. You cannot be fired, rejected for a job or promotion, given lesser assignments, or forced to take leave.” Also, be sure to learn about the baby bonding time options that your district may offer. Now, just take life a day at a time!

Dear WeAreTeachers:
I left teaching three years ago, sadly due to being bullied by another teacher. This has left me with what seems to be PTSD.  Now, I am back in a school as a cover teacher with a wonderful team. I have cried most nights upon coming home and felt an overwhelming feeling of awfulness. This lady really impacted my life. I never filed a grievance, although I had our union involved and was advised I had more than enough evidence to go through with it. But I didn’t have any energy or fight left in me, so I just left, and now regret not standing up for myself when I had my chance. How do I deal with all my emotional baggage now that I’m back in a school? —Finding My Courage

Dear F.M.C.,

Thank you for your courage to speak up! Sharing your story has the power to positively inspire others while also serving to be healing for yourself. Bullying can take a heavy toll on your spirits and overall sense of wellness. Hopefully, you have been able to find professional support to help you process the trauma you experienced. There is no shame in getting help! Unfortunately, workplace bullying in schools is widespread. Schools need to address bullying of ANY KIND and not just for students.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by witnessing or experiencing a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.”

So, let’s shift to some things you can do to regain control over your life at school. Your self-awareness is key. Check in with your feelings and sensations in your body throughout your day. Notice them and name them. Be gentle and kind to yourself when those intense feelings come up. Extend the same kind of compassion to yourself that you would offer to a friend. Consider some inner self-talk such as, “I’m not alone in this. I am strong. I’m showing up. I am present. Each step takes me where I want to be. I am worthy of good things in my life.” Find out more about self-compassion practices.

The students are fortunate to have you and your expertise, empathy, and compassion. You deserve to work in a place where you feel valued and supported!

So I was on track to be hired at a private school. The principal talked about pay scale and benefits and wanted me to meet the other teacher for the grade level since we would be team teaching. I had a schedule conflict, so I rescheduled the meeting. Then, unfortunately, a student at the school passed away. The funeral was at the school/church, so again the meeting was pushed back. Later, I got an email saying the position was filled! I’m so upset and frustrated with the whole teacher interview process. I feel like I was lied to! How do I move past this? —Blindsided and Bitter

Dear B.A.B.,

Feeling frustrated, confused and let down are normal reactions to not getting a position you were hopeful about. In Elena Aguilar’s book Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators, she writes about the importance of understanding emotions as you build your emotional resilience. Taking time to pause and notice and name your feelings will help you begin to understand your emotions. This level of emotional regulation enables you to discern what’s in your sphere of control. Think back on this context and consider what was in your control and out of your control.

We don’t know the exact reason why the principal filled the position with someone else. Feel free to reach out to the administrator to request feedback on the interview or move on and work on aligning your core values with a new team. Talking about salary and meeting a team member can be considered to be part of the interview process by many educators. Until you have signed a contract, you can change your mind, and so can the leadership. It sounds like some bad timing with your scheduling conflict and also saddening to learn about the loss of a student. Try not to take this too personally, and let’s get you ready for your next interview.

As you prepare for upcoming interviews, remember that it takes a great deal of courage and vulnerability to persevere. In Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, she describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Vulnerability and courage are a result of stepping out of our comfort zones. “Vulnerability is not about winning or losing but having the courage to show up even when you can’t control the outcome.” Show up, and good luck on the next interview!

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Dear WeAreTeachers,
I’ve been teaching for 14 years now—six as a Special Education teacher and eight as an Intervention teacher. I love my job, and I’m good at it. Over the past few years, I’ve been thinking more and more about moving out of Special Ed and into General Ed. So I was really excited when a third-grade position opened up in my building. It’s been a while since I’ve been in an interview, but I’m ready for a change. I applied, and even though I thought the interview went great, I wasn’t hired. Instead, they hired one of my colleagues from the SpEd program. She just finished her second year as a teacher, and I’m angry and feeling let down. How do I go into next year knowing I have to work in her room?

Help! My School Mandates New Classroom Themes Every Two Years